The image of the Black woman in our community is one of strength and resilience. We are superwomen and proud of it. We can work full-time while attending school, run a side business, hang out with the girls and still take care of our families. We wear being overextended like a badge of honor.
But is it an honor to be sick, tired, stressed, and in denial about it all? Should we be proud of literally working ourselves to death? Is being a superwoman worth all that it costs us?
“The Strong Black Woman/Superwoman role has been highlighted as a phenomenon influencing African American women’s experiences and reports of stress,” says Professor Cheryl Giscombé, Ph.D. “Researchers have suggested that health disparities in African American women, including adverse birth outcomes, lupus, obesity, and untreated depression, can be explained by stress and coping.”
I was raised by a superwoman. My mother worked full-time as a nurse. She sold Mary Kay cosmetics on the side. She raised six kids. She cooked dinner every night, even though she worked nights. She also went back to school even though that meant she would have to head to class as soon as she got off work. She never complained. She did what needed to be done.
Watching my mother made me think all that was normal. It was also normal to lack sleep. It was normal to not take care of your health. It was normal to never ask for help. It was normal to not talk about your feelings. It was normal to put everyone before yourself. It was normal to juggle every ball thrown at you. It was normal to carry the weight of it all alone. She did it so it was normal for me to do it.
But that’s the problem with being a superwoman. If you’re not careful you’ll teach your daughter/s that it is normal to be everything to everybody. You’ll teach them to put themselves last. You’ll teach them that constant stress is a normal state of being. You’ll teach them to ignore their body when it begs them for rest. You’ll teach them to swallow their feelings until it makes them physically ill. You’ll teach them the cure for depression is food and a nap.
The problem with being a superwoman is that it erases you as a person. Why not try being super at your job but still leave on time. Be the supermom who knows that laundry can wait while you take a bubble bath. Be the superwife with weekly date nights. Be the super student who unplugs when your body tells you to. Why not try being super good to yourself. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you for it.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer and journalist based in Chicago. Find her on social @beboldshineon.